Be "Out-Standing" in your Field - Some Thoughts on Field Scouting
As the crops are emerging and the growing season is in full swing, it is important to protect time and money investments in the fields. Different crops have different growth stages and critical timings of in-season applications. A quick drive by will allow you to detect concerns that may lead to a problem in the field.
Get a good look of the entire field, if possible, to see if there are any obvious problems that may need to be addressed right way. Irrigation is always one that can be corrected and has the potential to help or hinder a crop.
Take good notes. Noting the date, time of day, weather conditions, pictures of crops and crop growth stages is important to good record keeping. The notes taken may not mean much now, but it could possibly later in the season. It also may help understand timings of problems in certain areas or crops in the years to come.
Look for abnormalities in the crop you are scouting. As you approach the field, plan a route that would take you through a good representation of the field. Generally a zig-zag pattern will allow you to scout out the different areas. Walking in a straight line the way it is tilled, planted, fertilized, or sprayed may not show you the irregularities you are looking for.
Figure 1. Scouting a field using a mobile device to take notes, take pictures, reference info, and/or mark GPS locations while in the field. Photo courtesy precionag.com
If a problem in an area of the field is identified or something doesn’t look right, make note of the location by physical landmarks, field flags or some type of electronic GPS device. This will allow you to come back to check up on the area at another scouting date or correct the problem as needed. Marking the location with a GPS enabled device may help with identifying trends, size of area affected, and possibly determining the cause of the problem by overlaying the points on in-season digitized imagery, historical digitized imagery or any other digitized layers that may be pertinent to the problem.
Figure 2. Normalized Difference Vegetative Index (NDVI) image showing in season differences of crop health biomass. Useful for directing scouting and sampling.
Weed, insect and disease books for your area and crops can be found through local extension service offices and various websites online. Different forums, websites, text alerts and other resources provide up-to-date information on disease forecasting, insect levels and other timely information to help you be proactive in protecting the crop.
If you are taking tissue or petiole samples while scouting, try to pull from the same areas every time. If this will be done multiple times over the season, try for the same time of day as well to keep consistency in looking for trends over time. Follow the proper sampling protocol from the lab or university to be assured you are getting good quality data from your samples.
Understanding your crop’s needs and following it through the different growth stages and critical timings is very important. This will allow you to make decisions on applications to prevent problems, mitigate existing problems, and help boost yields where deficiencies are found.
Figure 3. Wheat field with Nitrogen deficiencies. Photo courtesy K-State Research and Extension.
- Tom Bowen, Precision Information Specialist